The quest to keep children in school should begin with a restructuring of the educational system to give parents, teachers and students more input, participants in the Utah Issues '91 conference concluded.
Schools should stop ignoring a state policy that requires an individual education plan for every child, participants said.A discussion of students at risk of failure delved into several issues and resulted in a set of recommendations that will be made to the Utah Legislature.
Besides the implementation of school-based decisionmaking policies and individual student education plans, the Legislature will be asked to consider:
- Differentiated staffing in schools, with several levels of instruction and more flexibility for teachers and other educational work-ers.
- Prekindergarten programs to prepare students in at-risk groups for more success.
- Early intervention in the schooling of children who, for a variety of reasons, appear headed for failure.
- Stronger emphasis on basic academic subjects and more attention to availability of vocational or technical training for students who are not college-bound.
- Appropriation of $1.7 million to offset losses school districts suffer when they grant fee waivers to students who qualify. The money would be distributed to districts not on membership formulas, but as needed, since some districts are more negatively affected by fee waivers than others.
- Programs to unite educational, social and health services for the benefit of children whose educations are affected by social or health problems.
The school fee waiver problem surfaced in the 1990 legislative session. Some parents told legislators that schools either fail to notify parents that waivers are available or discourage them from seeking waivers because the money is lost to school programs. Some children are barred from school activities because they are unable to pay fees, parents said.
The State Board of Education has asked for $500,000 in its upcoming budget to help schools offset fee losses, an amount that is clearly not enough, participants said. Even the $1.7 million identified during the conference would provide only minimal recompense to the schools for the money they lose through fee waiver provisions.
Those involved in the session proposed a philosophical position that progressive reform should guide educational planning for the state, but several suggested that changes would likely have to occur within financial realities. A system in which no fees are charged any student may not be feasible, participants concluded.
A proposed recommendation for intensive studies of the drop-out situation was shelved when it was noted Utah already is involved in such a study through a federal grant program. Many statistics already are available about why children don't stay in school, participants said. The state now should move forward and address those problems.